By Beth Griffin
NEW YORK (CNS) — A candlelight service at St. Francis of Assisi Church Aug. 23 offered uplifting music, quiet prayer and heartfelt petitions for those struggling in the chaos of Haiti and Afghanistan.
The event incorporated Scripture, silent reflection, musical response and prayer. Inviting participation, Franciscan Father Tom Gallagher, pastor of St. Francis Assisi, wrote: “We can and need to ask God to intervene and give us insight for ways we can respond with the love of Christ.”
Haiti experienced a magnitude 7.2 earthquake Aug. 14 that killed more than 2,200 people and injured at least 12,000 others. Nearly 53,000 houses were destroyed, according to local authorities.
Days later, it was in the path of Tropical Storm Grace that unleashed torrential rains and caused flash flooding that blocked access to communities in need. The country was already reeling from the July 7 assassination of its president, Jovenel Moïse.
Afghanistan is in turmoil after the Taliban takeover of the country Aug. 15 and the departure of its president, Ashraf Ghani. After almost 20 years, the U.S. military withdrew most of its forces by early July, but had to resend thousands of its troops back in a scramble to safely evacuate American civilians and Afghans who aided the war effort by Aug. 31.
The New York church was lit by pillar candles surrounding a painted crucifix that rested on the steps of the sanctuary. Incense wafted up from a shallow bowl.
Meredith Augustin, parish director of music ministries, played piano and led songs of peace, praise and supplication. She was accompanied by musicians on guitar, drums and organ.
With a clear focus on the deteriorating situation in both countries, Father Gallagher, the presider, prayed: “When all seems dark, illuminate the world with your vision of hope, dignity and abundant life set for Haiti and Afghanistan from the beginning of creation.”
“The shadow of the cross has fallen across these countries, yet for us who believe, the cross is not death, but resurrection, new life,” he continued.
Father Gallagher urged participants to seek comfort, healing, strength and courage. He invited people forward to have their open palms anointed with chrism.
“We come seeking the healing gift that is God,” he said.
One of the readers at the prayer service was Haitian Franciscan Father Abraham Joseph, who was born in Les Cayes, epicenter of the earthquake.
Relatives in the Chantal neighborhood of Les Cayes told him a cresting river destroyed the only bridge into the community, disrupting access for relief supplies.
Father Joseph told Catholic News Service that some people mistakenly blame Haitians for their plight, as if they did something to deserve their suffering. This is wrong and an injustice, he said.
“All suffering has meaning. Like the suffering servant in Isaiah, by our suffering we carry the suffering of the world,” he said.
Nonetheless, Father Joseph said, “We cannot be indifferent to the suffering of another.”
“Haitians are resilient and we know in our hearts we want good for ourselves and everyone else. We are fighting the good fight for justice,” he said.
The unhurried pace and quiet calm of the event in the candlelit church were occasionally interrupted by the muted wails of police sirens out front on West 31st Street responding to the shooting of a bystander at nearby Penn Station. The victim was hit by a stray bullet and was expected to recover.